Saturday, June 28, 2008

What!! No PD?

I’m in San Antonio for NECC. I am looking forward to a great week.

Right now I am thinking about professional development. At supper tonight, the DG of our school board was telling me about his recent trip to Uruguay. They are deploying OLPC laptops to all their students following the approved “saturation” approach. Apparently this involves getting the laptops out there, and letting the teachers and students figure things out. No PD!

I am appalled.

I teach in a school board with 1:1 laptops. Some teachers use them extensively, some hardly at all. Some use them well, others less so. Either way, they most certainly use them more and better than if they had received no professional development. Teachers who are intimidated by the laptops have at least become brave enough to use them a little. Teachers who are comfortable with the technology use them more creatively as a result of our PD.

In my experience, PD is essential for 1:1 laptops to work at all. Even the teachers who know how to use the technology benefit from hearing new ideas about how they can use the machines effectively. For those teachers who are less proficient, or who are resistant, the right kind of PD can show them how the technology fits with what they are already doing.

What a shame to simply pitch these machines willy-nilly into classrooms. Some will certainly be used, but the challenges will be too many for most to meet on their own.

Earlier today, Gary Stager posted the following on Twitter:PD to do what? (important question) PD doesn't work. Professionals develop autonomously in environments where it is supported and expected.”

PD to do what? If all I know about my laptop is that I can type text, and I never have an opportunity to learn otherwise, am I using my laptop well? If the challenges and frustrations are numerous, and I feel abandoned, helpless, and alone, will I use the laptops at all? PD does not need to be something that is done to 50 teachers in a room – far from it. What if the environment supports and expects teachers’ PD in collaborative environments? What if PD consists (in part) of time for half a dozen teachers to get together and talk about what they are doing? They can share ideas, what’s working, solutions for challenges, etc. They might also connect with a mentor teacher online using Skype.

Whatever the shape it takes, I believe that PD is a necessary part of 1:1 laptop deployment.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Growing Pains

We have a new student. That may not sound like much, but it is causing some big changes in what was a smooth routine. I have been working with three students since the end of January. They are a tight-knit group and as we approached the end of the year, our days ran like a well-oiled machine.

Two weeks ago, a new student joined us. Besides being new to the group she is completely new to online learning and does not seem to have too much computer experience.

The biggest challenge for me is that she is a very different learner than the others. We are used to chunks of discussion and instruction, either all together, in small groups or individually, during their morning to prepare for work time in the afternoon. This is very challenging to her as she has difficulty taking in all the information and multi-step instructions. She is a learner who requires tiny pieces of information or instructions in single steps at a time. There also seem to be many gaps in what she has learned previously, so she gets lost easily (e.g. she is grade 4 age and she does not know the word “author,” gets confused by the conversation). She does not say anything when she is confused or does not understand, she just imagines what I must want and plows on. From the other side of the online classroom, I cannot read her facial expressions or body language and I cannot class at work that she is beginning to make sure that she is on the right track.

I am having a lot of trouble re-structuring the class to accommodate her needs. I have tried having her follow another student’s day to get the idea, but she is overwhelmed. I have tried giving her a small step to go do while we are online. She was to come back and text me that she was ready. As it turns out, she did not understand what to do (despite having assured me that she did) and did something else. She then tried to type the something else into the text chat. Other times she daydreams or is “thinking,” for a very long time. She is not independent enough for this model.

We only have 14 classes left in the year. I hope we can push through the growing pains and find a solution soon.